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Budget reallocation ordered by veto-proof council majority

Milwaukee’s 15 City Council members voted Tuesday in support of cutting the city’s police budget by 10 percent, or about $30 million.

A veto-proof majority announced Monday that they supported the move as calls to defund police departments have intensified nationwide and after the Minneapolis City Council voted to disband the city’s police department after one of its officers murdered George Floyd, an unarmed Black man.

Milwaukee dedicated 45.4 percent, or about $300 million, of its budget to police in 2020, while just a few percent went toward community-enriching efforts like public health and neighborhood services.

“I believe that the conversations around police reform and reallocation of resources are intertwined and must happen simultaneously and not in separate silos,” Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson wrote in a statement.

The council cannot singlehandedly redirect the funding. Instead, it had to order the city’s finance director to allocate the money elsewhere in the 2021 budget. The council will then approve or reject the budget later this year.

“It is time to consider the impact a change in the MPD budget could have,” said Alderman Jose Perez in a statement. “…It is time for the Common Council to be proactive in the budget process. We can no longer afford to be reactive.”

Fourteen of the city’s 15 aldermen and Mayor Tom Barrett recently condemned the Police Department’s use of force on peaceful protesters in the first few days of protests over Floyd’s death. Police Chief Alfonso Morales in a press conference compared police to Jesus Christ and said law enforcement officers were being “crucified.”

The department tweeted on Monday that a 10 percent budget reduction will mean the city will have to eliminate 375 police officers.

“I understand this doesn’t sit well with a lot of people in our community, particularly in my district … (but) I think we need to take a bigger, global picture and look at what’s going on in our society and not be so quick to say, ‘Well, we need the police for every single incident,’” said Alderwoman Nikiva Dodd during Tuesday’s meeting.

Aldermen Mark Borkowski and Scott Spiker voted against the resolution. 

Other big cities have also embraced the movement to defund police. Los Angeles’ mayor and City Council president plan to redistribute $150 million of the police budget to other areas. The New York City Council speaker and seven other council members said they want to cut $1 billion from the police budget.

Community leaders in Milwaukee roundly criticized Barrett when, in the wake of Floyd’s death, the mayor formed a commission on police reform rather than taking immediate action. He has not given a clear stance on reducing police funding. 

Milwaukee’s announcement came on the heels of Racine’s City Council taking initial steps to police reform.